LAS VEGAS (AP) — Utah played Arizona close in two games during the regular season, giving the Utes reason to believe they’d have a shot at the top-seeded Wildcats in the Pac-12 tournament.
The way Arizona played defense, it turned out to be wishful thinking.
Unable to match Arizona’s defensive intensity, Utah bowed out of the Pac-12 tournament in record-setting fashion, blown out 71-39 by the fourth-ranked Wildcats on Thursday to match the most lopsided loss in tournament history.
“They took pride in guarding us,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “They took the life out of us.”
Nick Johnson scored 14 points, T.J. McConnell 13 and Aaron Gordon added 11 for Arizona, which shot 53 percent.
That was just a side note to what the Wildcats were doing defensively.
After playing two close games against Utah during the regular season, top-seeded Arizona (29-3) opened the tournament with a have-to-see-it-to-believe-it defensive performance.
Energized by a raucous crowd that made it feel like the McKale Center, the Wildcats were at their lane-jumping, shot-contesting best against the Utes (21-11) to move into the semifinals Friday against Colorado or California.
Arizona jumped on Utah early and had stamped its name in the record books by then, setting marks for fewest points allowed, fewest field goals (12) and lowest shooting percentage (25).
The Wildcats held the Utes to 13 points in the first half, another record, and matched UCLA’s 32-point win over Oregon State in 2006 to move into Friday’s semifinals against Colorado or California.
Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright, Utah’s leading scorers, combined for seven points on 1-of-4 shooting and Utah lost by 13 fewer points than its 10 previous losses combined.
“When we get stops and get rebounds and get the push, our athleticism is really at play,” Johnson said. “I think finishing with dunks and around the basket gets everybody going.
Arizona had hoped to make a statement in the Pac-12 tournament to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Pac-12’s regular-season champion Wildcats certainly did in their tournament opener, playing with an intensity Utah had no chance of matching after playing a close game against Washington the night before.
The crowd at MGM Grand Garden Arena started chants of “U of A! U of A!” long before the opening tip and the Wildcats turned the game into a rout not long after the ball went up.
Racing out for dunks and 3-pointers in transition set up by their climb-in-your-jersey defense, the Wildcats stormed past the Utes with an 18-2 run that put them up 22-6.
Arizona kept its foot on the Utes behind its defense, contesting every shot, pass and dribble.
The Wildcats held Utah to 5-of-19 shooting while forcing eight turnovers in the first half. Loveridge and Wright, who combine for over 31 points per game, took four shots and had no points between them.
“They were really putting on a defensive clinic in the first half,” Utah center Dallin Bachynski said.
Second half, more of the same.
Utah missed its first 11 shots — its first field goal came 9:15 in — and at one point had five players on the court who had yet to score in the game.
Yep, it was that bad.
The only thing in doubt at that point was whether the Utes would get to 30 points. They got there with 4:17 left, but, boy, was it ugly.
“We were locked in,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “Everything that we wanted to do defensively, we were able to do it.”
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